Gemma Grainger’s Wales suffered the first defeat of their 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign courtesy of a ruthless France side who posted a 2-0 win.
Wales’ defence was admirable for much of the away encounter, but the hosts scored two goals on the counter-attack.
Despite Wales frustrating a team ranked fifth in the world for almost the entirety of the opening half, the first goal came when a Delphine Cascarino dart down the right was followed by a cross to Kadidiatou Diani, who slotted it into the top left corner to beat Laura O’Sullivan in goal in the dying moments of the first half.
Jess Fishlock gave Wales their best chance of the game as it neared its conclusion when her shot hit the post, and it was at this point that France launched another lethal counter-attack to score their second goal thanks to Selma Bacha less than 30 seconds after Fishlock’s shot.
Matters were not helped when Wales striker Kayleigh Green was red carded after being booked twice, leaving her team with 10 players for 20 minutes. It is the second time during this campaign that Green has been yellow carded twice in one game, and she will now miss the return fixture in April.
Despite Wales’ defeat, they can return home with their heads held high knowing they pushed a top nation all the way and almost equalised while having to deal with a red card for almost a quarter of the game. Grainger’s team, fresh from a 5-0 win over Greece last Friday, were not afraid to challenge and attack and enjoyed several chances to level the scores when France held a one-goal lead.
Wales will be forgiven for being aggrieved at a very questionable decision which ruled Carrie Jones offside, stopping a positive Wales moment in its tracks when she was two yards onside. As there is no VAR in these qualifiers, there was no opportunity to correct.
France are now five points clear at the top of Group I, but Wales are in second spot and remain on track to secure at least a play-off spot with four qualifiers remaining, their next being another France clash but at home in April. Greece holding Slovenia – who are Wales’ biggest challengers for second spot – to a draw and denying them three points on Tuesday night also gives Wales a welcome cushion.
France: Peyraud-Magnin, Périsset, De Almeida, Tounkara, Morroni, Toletti, Bilbault, Geyoro, Diani, Katoto, Cascarino.
Wales: O’Sullivan, Morgan, Evans, Ladd, Roberts, Ingle (capt), James, Fishlock, Harding, Jones, Green.
Referee: Iuliana Elena Demetrescu (Romania)